Swapping skills in the Amazon

The journey from our Asháninka partnership in Eastern Peru to the Awajún in the North takes two and a half days. It involves a boat, a plane, and two long bus journeys.

But, for a group of five men and women from the Asháninka it was well worth the trip. They travelled to the Awajún in January this year for a knowledge exchange trip. The Asháninka have invested in extensive training on maternal health, and a brilliantly successful cacao growing programme. But they want to begin fish farming and developing a craft cooperative. The Awajún have done both of those things successfully, but wanted to learn more about growing cacao, and develop a community health programme.

Cool Earth is always striving to be as light touch as possible. Getting communities to learn from each other on trips like this is brilliantly efficient. It means less involvement from us, and therefore less overhead. It also means fewer cultural and language barriers. It’s something we plan to do more of going forward, and this was a brilliant opportunity to see how it would work in practice.

First stop was the health centre in Urakuza village. The biggest health problem in the Awajún is water borne disease. From the discussion, it turned out this might be down to poor hygiene in the chakras.  These are food gardens, away from the village, where community members stay for weeks at a time in peak growing season. The accommodation there is very basic and things like running water and toilets are non-existent. These gardens will really benefit from tippy taps, which will allow people to wash their hands with clean water and soap.

Adelaida has been instrumental in getting 105 tippy taps built in the Asháninka community, reducing illness by half. She demonstrated how to build a tippy tap and the Awajún participants tried it out. This simple device will make a huge difference to the Awajún community’s health.

The following day the artisans took it in turn to swap ideas. Mica and Rosalva presented to the Awajún about the Asháninka’s fledgling artisans group, Jeto. They spoke about why they set up the association, what they plan to make, and their ideas for branding. Balbina from Awajún artisans cooperate, AMARNO spoke passionately about the development of their group, from a mother’s club to a thriving cooperative. Balbina shared what she had learned with the Asháninka women, and will help them write a business proposal.

Meanwhile, Julian and Carlos from the Asháninka were very interested to see how the Awajún were getting on with their fish farm project. They visited the reproduction centre, where baby fish (or ‘fingerlings’) are cultivated to stock the ponds and sell to neighbouring villages.

They met with Juan José Sanchez Cerro Iquit who explained about the teething problems they had, and the importance of fish as a source of protein for dietary health. He also highlighted how the fish farms have reduced the strain on native fish species in the rivers.

The last couple of days on the trip were spent studying Inga. Marin, who’s heading up the team implementing Inga in the Awajún, is convinced of the system’s effectiveness. Upon his return from Honduras, Marin experimented with Inga on his personal plot. He also took the Asháninka group to the Inga project nursery to show them the progress he had made. Marin’s passion and enthusiasm for working with Inga for its benefits to the forest, left the Asháninka feeling inspired.

The trip was a great success and means both partnerships are strengthened. In the future, we want to see more of these trips happening. Adelaida has said she’d love to go and teach the women in Papua New Guinea how to build tippy taps. With your support, we just might make that happen.

“I value the artisans of AMARNO, the fish farmers, and those who are going to plant Inga. I feel that the Maternity Health project is worthwhile for our Awajún sisters. They realized that basic hygiene is essential for a happy and healthy community” - Adelaida Bustemante

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